By: Klaidi Shehi
In 1971, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau announced to the house of commons that Canada would begin implementing bilingualism and multiculturalism as official policies. By doing so, Canada became the first country in the world to adopt multiculturalism as an official governmental policy and later introduced the Canadian Multiculturalism Act in 1988. This act aims to protect everyone’s right to practise their own culture and to recognise the cultural contributions of diverse ethnic groups to Canadian society. In other words, this policy would officially acknowledge and respect all Canadian society’s language, customs, religion, and diversity. Canada’s diversity is one of the significant characteristics of our great nation that has given rise to a mixture of different languages and cultures existing within its borders. This blog will look at how the Multiculturalism Act takes effect within our borders and the diversity of languages within Canada’s perimeter.
Different cultures and ethnicities present in Canada
Many countries welcome thousands of immigrants settling in their cities and towns. However, many of these immigrant-heavy countries differ from Canada in that they strive to create melting posts where minority groups are urged or even, at times, pressured to assimilate into a single cohesive cultural group. However, in Canadian society, there exists a cultural mosaic where diverse cultural groups, languages and customs co-exist within a society, and minorities can maintain their values and practices. In a cultural mosaic society, ethnic groups can preserve their unique values, beliefs, and practices while they function as a part of the Canadian conglomerate. This is further supported by the fact that in 2021, 8.3 million individuals in Canada—nearly a quarter of the country’s population—were either landed immigrants or permanent residents, thanks to Canada’s leading international immigration system. This percentage is the highest proportion observed in Canadian history and is also the highest amongst the G7 (Statistics Canada, 2021). The countries Canada has welcomed most immigrants from have changed from decade to decade. In the early to mid-20th century, immigrants into Canada were predominantly western European who were Italian, British, German, and French immigrants, later shifting to more Eastern European countries. In most recent decades, immigrants to Canada predominantly come from Central and South America, Asia, and the Middle East, who now represent 62% of most recent immigrants into Canada. The top 3 places of birth reported by recent immigrants in Canada between 2016 and 2021 were from 1. India, 2. Philippines, and 3. China.
Within Canada’s significant cities, neighbourhoods of dozens of cultures, customs, and languages happily co-exist. One significant diaspora is the Greek Canadians living in East York, Toronto, more specifically on the Danforth. This city area is home to thousands of Greek immigrants whose culture and language have spread throughout East York and have become woven into the fabric of the city. One major cultural event of the Greek Canadians living in Toronto is the Yearly Taste of the Danforth street festival, which welcomes over 1 million visitors annually. This street festival is a celebration of the city but also of Greek culture in Toronto with its live Greek music performances, several restaurants and booths serving authentic Greek cuisine and even plate smashing for visitors to enjoy.
The Chinese Canadian neighbourhood in Vancouver, the third-largest Chinatown in North America, is another significant enclave in Canada. Here you can find dozens of Asian specialty stores, and every year, the neighbourhood hosts the Annual Vancouver Chinatown Festival. This free to enter, the family friendly event reflects the multicultural vibrancy of the community with an exciting variety of food vendors, live entertainment, artisan crafts, games and more. The event also features various aspects of Chinese cultures, such as Lion Dancing, a giant game of Mah-jong, as well as performances by Chinese dancers, singers, and comedians.
The Canadian Multiculturalism Act encourages the celebration of foreign cultures, practices, and languages rather than forcing residents of Canada to assimilate into a single Canadian culture which is reflected in these vibrant diasporas. This makes Canada a welcoming and friendly nation where people embrace one another’s diversity. To provide support for events like these and projects that help individuals and communities come together, the government of Canada has committed $23 million over 2 years in budget 2018 to increase funding for the Multiculturalism Program. Additionally, Budget 2019 proposes an additional investment of $45 million over three years to support the Building a Foundation for Change: Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy. These budgets help fund programs that encourage positive interactions between cultural, religious, and ethnic groups in Canada and promote the expression of Canadian’s multiple identities (Heritage Canada, Government of Canada, 2019).
Importance of Translation and Interpretation in this Multicultural Canada
With the increasing number of immigrants coming to Canada and their family members, access to information through language has always been more critical. To communicate with newcomers who only speak English as their second language, the importance of interpretation and translation continues to grow. With many newcomers to Canada having English as a second language, interpretation and translation are essential for communicating with others in our diverse cities and provinces. Language services are integral to Canada’s open-door and multicultural policies as they help remove the language barriers in daily life. Things such as legal preceding, doing essential paperwork, communicating with neighbours and peers, and even getting groceries or medications can be challenging for those affected by language gaps. That is why MCIS, as a Social Enterprise, has strived to help those who require language services but cannot afford them. Canada’s multicultural policies are a significant driver of the Social Purpose work we do here at MCIS. Through the funding and resources our SBI fund provides, we can provide language services to those who require it most, from translation to interpretation and even ASL and braille services.
Multiculturalism has benefited Canada by developing its businesses, boosting the economy, and developing Canadian society to become more open-minded and knowledgeable of other cultures worldwide. Many of these immigrants are also skilled workers who bring experience in industries such as medicine, engineering and commerce, allowing for international perspectives and ideas to develop in Canada. Additionally, they also bring entrepreneurs in sectors such as food and clothing who open businesses that reflect their home culture in our multicultural cities. With the influx of individuals from all over the globe also comes the increase in foreign investment in several industries. As individuals move into Canada and begin to increase the size of their diasporas, many international corporations will follow who will look to target these groups in the Canadian market. Brands like Muji, Miniso, Chatime and Laline, all international brands from Japan, China, Taiwan, and Israel, respectively, have invested in expanding into the Canadian market in the past 10 years. This foreign investment reflects Canada’s openness to these international brands as Canadians become more aware of these types of products, and demand grows amongst the diasporas and the entire Canadian population. Overall, Canada has always been a country of immigrants, bringing different cultures and ideas to this great nation. As we develop Canada into a welcoming and accepting land, we further its reputation as an innovative and productive country for all to enjoy, no matter their background, culture, or language.
Language Advocacy Day
In order to further promote language rights and call for awareness to those who take charge in policy-making, MCIS has sponsored the Language Advocacy Day 2023, themed “Language, Education, Stories Untold” and taking place on Feb. 22-23.
Inspired by the National Language Day in the U.S., Language Advocacy Day in Canada was established by the Language Access Coalition of Canada to promote language rights, celebrate Canada’s linguistic diversity, and advocate for policy making. Each year, the conference invites language rights stakeholders – professionals, advocates, language lovers, non-profit organizations, academia, and those in charge of policy making to meet, share insights, learn from each other and collaborate on projects that promote language rights advocacy.